Updated: Feb 25, 2021
In Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind" (p. 446) Scarlett is quoted as saying, "It hurt too much. It drags at your heart till you can't ever do anything else except look back. That's what's wrong with Ashley, He can't look forward any more. He can't see the present, he fears the future, and so he looks back. I never understood it before. I never understood Ashley before. Oh, Ashley, my darling, you shouldn't look back! What good will it do? I shouldn't have let you tempt me into talking of the old days. This is what happens when you look back to happiness, this pain, this heartbreak, this discontent..."
She rose to her feet, her hand still in his. She must go. She could not stay and think of the old days and see his face, tired and sad and bleak as it now was. "We've come a long way since those days, Ashley," she said, trying to steady her voice, trying to fight the constriction in her throat. "We had fine notions then, didn't we?" And then, with a rush, "Oh Ashley, nothing has turned out as we expected."
"It never does", he said. "Life's under no obligation to give us what we expect. We take what we get and are thankful."
On the other hand, instead of nostalgically trying to squeeze a few more years out of the good old days, there are those who are haunted by painful memories of loved ones who perished or abandoned them, family wealth and privilege that was squandered, physical abuse and mental torment they suffered, who cannot let go and forgive - who wish they could move on like trees in winter, letting go of their leaves so new ones can sprout in the spring. Others use the hard times and bad luck to motivate them to strive for a better tomorrow. In Jamaica, we say, "Better Must Come," Here is God's promise: "Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning." (Psalm 30:5)
Should we let the past dictate how we live in the present? Some of us like to live in the past because it's familiar, it's comfortable, it's pictures on the wall of the old country and our ancestors, it's the pretty dresses and ice-cream socials, it's Thanksgiving and Christmas every day. What's there not to like about that? Comfort foods and happy times are good.
Do you still delight in telling the tales of being the captain of your football team and the steak dinners you and your team enjoyed after a big win? Are your best days behind you? Do you feel like you are losing it? My wife's favorite quote is: "Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is not promised, and that's why today is a present."
Embrace it. Enjoy it. In fact, let us be glad in it! When you fill up your life with things of the past, you leave little room to enjoy your present.
One of my favorite places to visit is Egypt. It is home of Cleopatra, Nefertiti, the great pharaohs and their pyramids, the mystic sphinx, mummification, the first alphabet, the marvelous inventiveness of their ancestors in medicine (Imhotep), astronomy, agriculture, and irrigation. They once ruled the world. So, they got stuck at some point in their past glory. We have enjoyed magnificent tours -0 a golden sea of memories. I have been on a mission on each visit (without success) to find any evidence of present achievements. So, it has become a nice place to visit but a terrible place to live.
Whether your past is painful or full of longing happiness, it doesn't even matter that you are old and only have your memories and nothing to look forward to, you can still move on from the past to make tomorrow great - even if it's just one more day. It is time to stop blaming and repeating: "If it wasn't for... we would be so much better off."
Some of us may believe we are living in the present but still being drawn back to the past. But the past is only a stepping stone that can fuel our ambitions, it is not a milestone. According to Stewart Stafford: "I don't believe in yesterday; I believe in tomorrow. Whether it's positive or negative, the future is a new experience and not a ghostly replay of a time that was and can never be again."